|Tiny ships for small hands.|
Last time I documented my efforts to bring Russo-Japanese War naval engagements to the tabletop. I finally pried my son from his tablet for an afternoon fighting a preliminary battle to learn the rules and get a sense of effective tactics. As mentioned before, we used a homemade ocean hex map, some ships from The Viking Forge I’d painted and based, and Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames, with modifications from my own “Critical Damage Table” and a small historical adjustment in favor of the Japanese forces. The battle was close, the “Critical Damage Table” played a role in the action, and we learned some of the finer points about the rules.
I wanted to give the Japanese an advantage – as they had a few slight ones during the Russo-Japanese War – but nothing too overwhelming. With my critical damage rules I allow ship to try to repair such damage if the vessel does not attack during a turn. Usually a roll of 4-6 repairs one point of such damage (rudder control, propulsion, fire control); I let Japanese ships make successful repairs on a 3-6, while Russians could repair only on 5-6. This reflected two elements I’d read about in Osprey’s Tsushima 1905 sourcebook: first, that Japanese crews were paid and treated better (and better trained) and that Japanese ships were repaired far more quickly than Russian ones (at least in port...I figured it could translate in some small way to the tabletop to give the Japanese a slight advantage).
|Distant Japanese ships split up while the|
Russians stick together.
I wanted a simple scenario so we could both learn the rules and best tactics without managing too many ships. Each side fielded a battleship and armored cruiser; the Russians the Borodino (BB) and Rurik (AC) and the Japanese the Mikasa (BB) and Asama (AC). I lined the Russian ships up side-by-side on my table edge while my son set his ships a hex or two apart and facing different directions. Set-ups modeled our general strategies...mine to keep the Russian ships together, his to split his forces. Our attack strategies differed, though; I strove to fire at both Japanese ships with the most advantageous conditions. His ships focused their firepower on the more powerful Borodino.
|Borodino and Mikasa (in the|
distance) blast away at
Both formations closed to range pretty quickly and began pounding at each other with their primary armament. The Japanese ships split up, trying to enclose the clustered Russian ships in a crossfire. Borodino and Mikasa blasted away at each other, while the Rurik fired at the most advantageous target. In the standard Gridded Naval Wargame rules a critical hit (a roll of 6 on an attack die) inflicts two flotation points of damage instead of one; with my variant a critical hit forces a roll on the “Critical Damage Table” and inflicts other damage: losing a point of movement, the ability to turn to port or starboard, one die of a primary weapon’s power, or losing two or even three flotation points (usually when rolling results already suffered by a vessel). Ships lost propulsion and rudder controls, though a few also lost gunnery dice. Mikasa was the first to sink, pounded by Borodino’s guns (though two torpedo attacks proved completely ineffective) after losing propulsion (and restoring some through repairs) and port rudder control. Borodino didn’t last much longer, though, as Asama finished her off with some long range fire. The Japanese cruiser had troubles of her own, having taken fire from Rurik and lost rudder controls. She took a turn to repair the port rudder capabilities, but at that point Rurik was moving in fast. The Russian cruiser – with only slight damage to its main gunnery control and a full tally of flotation points – closed and opened up with all her guns and a torpedo attack, sinking Asama.
|Rurik in the distance comes about|
to finish off the Asama.
Since combat takes place simultaneously, we recorded hits and critical hits using some Litko markers I’d acquired a while ago. Water plume markers noted normal, one-point hits, while blast markers indicated critical hits to resolve after everyone had attacked. Aside from looking great on the table, it enabled us to tally hits and effects at the end of the combat phase...often without knowing how critical hits would affect a ship’s future performance. On several occasions a pile of critical hits on a ship resolved into reductions of firepower, speed, or maneuverability, sparing it multiple losses of two flotation points each and providing some uncertainty whether a barrage sank or severely damaged a vessel.
Overall the battle was very evenly matched. We very quickly learned to keep targets in our broadside fire arcs, as the fore and aft arcs limited the full firepower and overall range effectiveness. Lining targets up in torpedo fire arcs was tough with only a three-hex range, suitable for the torpedo technology of the time. No doubt had we not used the “Critical Damage Table” ships would have reached their critical flotation points faster and had to withdraw sooner...and they wouldn’t have been hindered by lost propulsion or rudder controls in withdrawing. The battle would have run much faster. But we enjoyed trying to press the attack while still suffering from critical damage limitations.
|Ships with stat cards: Borodino|
has already taken a hit.
I noted a few adjustments for future games. My stat card designs need symbols to note how many torpedo attacks a ship has made (the rules limit them to four per ship). I also need to find another slight bonus to favor the Japanese forces, possibly something related to their superior gunpowder used at the time (I’m still reading Osprey’s Tsushima 1905 for research). I’m considering a modifier when rolling 2d6 on the “Critical Damage Table” for enemy ships hit by Japanese gunfire, since that’s weighted to more severe damage on the higher end (notably the “12” result...losing 3 flotation points). I’m also considering changing the first three results in which a ship just loses 2 flotation points and putting them at the higher end. Our game proved that while other critical damage results affect play, they don’t contribute to the vessel’s destruction as quickly as regular hits.
Now that we’re familiar with the rules and their nuances, our next step is to play out a larger battle using more ships. I have two battleships and cruisers for each Russian and Japanese force. If my son continues to enjoy this pursuit I expect I’ll be ordering and painting a few more....